Holding Ourselves Responsible for Electing Obama
Another cycle of conversation on the bitter disappointment that is the Obama presidency appears to be taking place once again among liberals or progressives. Writers for prominent progressive media like The Nation and leaders in prominent progressive organizations like Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) are expressing their discontent and offering suggestions to dismayed Americans who had hoped change would actually come from the Obama Administration.
Eric Alterman of The Nation published an article recently calling the Obama presidency "a big disappointment." Katrina vanden Heuvel, also of The Nation, suggested that people aren't just disappointed in Obama but really wonder where this country is headed. And, Norman Solomon, on the executive board of Progressive Democrats of America, recently told Real News' Paul Jay, "The Obama Administration is more and more moving towards policies that many who worked to elect Obama have worked to oppose in recent years."
Obama on Inauguration Day
The emerging consensus, which has been present over the past year and a half as more and more progressives confess frustration with President Obama, is that the presidency has taken a turn away from progressivism, a turn that many didn't expect or hoped would not occur. There are a few progressive minds who are being asked what to do next that appear willing to admit they held their nose and voted for a centrist Democrat, but an overwhelming amount continue to cling to their history of delusions and maintain Obama could have been progressive.
The consensus also religiously clings to the reality that Republicans are becoming increasingly dangerous for the country and hold that reality up as an excuse for why Obama has "failed" progressives tremendously. To them, the power of the minority has made it near impossible for any progressive agenda, any major social reforms to get through. This would be a valid argument if plenty of evidence of Democratic Party leaders allowing or quite often colluding with the toxic talk and agenda of the Republican Party did not exist.
Not extending unemployment benefits and not raising more of a fuss as Republicans obstruct the renewal of these jobless benefits, appointing Petraeus to replace McChrystal in Afghanistan and continuing a war in a country often regarded as "the graveyard of empires," maintaining a permanent troop presence in Iraq, contributing to culture which led to the BP oil disaster by indicating renewed support for offshore drilling one month before the disaster, keeping the option of a national public-financed healthcare system off the table as Republicans cried foul about a socialist takeover of healthcare and talked death panels, refusal to advance the minor reform that labor unions have desired, the Employee Free Choice Act (pretty much the only real demand they have had for Obama), the continued use of rendition, believing the truth will endanger soldiers and lead to increased deaths and instability in the Middle East and refusing to investigate torture or release photos of the abuse that soldiers inflicted on detainees--- These are just some of the victories Republicans have won from Obama. These are just some of the many examples of continuity that Republicans have enjoyed.
Progressives have gradually woken up from their hope-induced coma and begun to realize more and more the folly that they have been engaging in. They had been dithering on what to do as social movements stumbled (e.g. the antiwar movement, which Cindy Sheehan has tried to re-ignite without much success). That's why more and more editorial writers and more and more leaders and organizers are being critical.
The questions must be asked: What level of responsibility should progressives take for the fact that they were swept up in Hope-a-Palooza '08? How much are progressive writers, media makers, organizers, and leaders to blame for the current impact the Obama presidency has had on society, if any?
While it is uncomfortable and in some respects unreasonable to take to task the people who should be the biggest allies of social movements and, in fact, an ally of this writer (who considers himself to be progressive), the cycle with which progressives have the Left going in is incredibly destructive to the future of this country, the world and in fact the whole of humanity. The strategy and tactics of progressives increasingly look like the definition of insanity--doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result.
Norman Solomon and Jeff Cohen each appear in two different series produced by Real News on progressives and the Democratic Party. One set particularly addresses the dynamics between progressives and Obama and the other addresses the corporatism of the Democratic Party, which has made it about impossible for real change to occur.
Both offer a further understanding of what the role of progressives is in society. Solomon reminds progressives "the Democratic Party base is appreciably more progressive than those who get elected and that needs to be rectified. Primaries exist for a reason, they're rarely utilized to the extent they could and should be." Cohen expresses his belief in the idea that progressives can "take over" the Democratic Party "through social action and grassroots politics and money" just like the Republican Party did after the Eisenhower Administration.
Solomon and Cohen display faith in the tying of social movements and independent political action to electoral activity. Fundamentally, there is little wrong with this concept. The best movements understood they had to have a presence in the street and had to have an electoral arm of the struggle. But, all too often, those movements, which had presences in elections, were running on a single issue as a candidate for a smaller party that was not Democrat or Republican, an electoral strategy that Solomon and Cohen do not support.
Given the massive shortcomings of the past four decades, it is time for those who speak for progressives and who purport to know ideas on how to best move forward toward a more egalitarian, more socially responsible and less corporate-controlled country to explain why not just progressives but Americans are to believe that their so-called "inside-outside strategy" can work or should work.
Why should we who have visions of a world that the Democratic Party is not willing to push for, why should we support the efforts of groups like Progressive Democrats of America to keep all concerned, socially-minded and oftentimes left-leaning people in one big tent?
Lance Selfa writes in his book, Democrats: A Critical History, takes a close look at what groups like PDA and examines whether the left can take over the Democratic Party. He quotes PDA founder Kevin Spidel who told William Rivers Pitt, "The most important thing we do is that inside-outside strategy. Pulling together members of the Green Party, the Independent Progressive Politics Network, the hip-hop community, the civil rights community, our allies in Congress, the anti-war community. We are bringing together all the social movements within the Democratic Party under on effective tent, and we will do it better if people can contribute to our cause."
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